When I was in Gdańsk I went to Mass every day because my hostess Marta tries to get to Mass every day, and I thought this was very beautiful. It is very easy to get to daily Mass in Poland because there are churches everywhere, and usually at least one person praying in any city church at any time of the day, and the priests show up to say Mass in such a way that you know they would show up even if nobody else did.
This was splendid and heartening, and what was also splendid and heartening was spending four days with a cradle Catholic woman my own age. I know many of my readers really prefer the company of men and feel like fish out of water when with fellow women, but I am definitely the kind of woman who enjoys being around other women. This is not to say I don't like men, but--.
Hmm. How to explain that "but"?
The wonderful thing about being in all-girl groups and activities, like Girl Guides and girls' school, is that although you compete a bit, you also work together and there is no mental adjustment for the presence of men. There is also no competition for men. You can just forget all that for as long as you are in the all-girl environment, learning how to tie a parcel or prepare a slide for the microscope. And you can talk endlessly, effortlessly obeying the social conventions around women's conversation you hopefully have mastered by the time you leave primary school.
But at the same time, for 99% of women, you pin your hopes for romance and family life on men, which means there is (or should be) a certain amount of detachment: you don't go out of your mind with jealousy when your friend falls in love with some guy. Sure, you might feel a bit neglected, but your heart doesn't snap in half. And this means women can relax around each other in a way we probably shouldn't around men. For example, you can tell a woman all about the lingerie your other friend got at her bridal shower and have a good laugh, whereas you can't tell a good male friend all this stuff without him silently asking the perpetual silent man question, "Why is she telling me this?"
From a cradle Catholic point of view, it is relaxing to be around other cradle Catholics because you don't have to talk about Catholicism so much. I spend a lot of time with convert men, including my husband, and I adore them all, but my goodness, do they talk a lot about Catholic stuff. Not usually about Our Lord or Our Lady, but about churches and liturgies and processions and what Pope Francis did and what Pope Benedict said and what convert Catholic wrote what about who.
Cradle Catholics, the ones who try to be faithful, don't have to talk so much. We can silently swim in a great sea of Catholicism, beyond words and sometimes even beyond thought, just believing and praying side by side. And this is what I did in Gdańsk with Marta. I am 100% sure it beat getting drunk with your mates and some Australian blokes on the beaches at Tenerife, the stereotypical modern British mini-break.
I do not, by the way, want to put up any kind of wall between cradle Catholics and convert Catholics. Unless they became Catholics just to please their fiances, convert Catholics have had an amazing experience, an at times painful and frightening adventure, and are often very impressive. Most of my favourite British Catholic writers were converts. There are a lot of leading American Catholic apologists who are converts. But there is something about growing up in a Catholic home and perhaps even a Catholic ghetto or Catholic society that is unique. Many of us North American Catholics are, by the time we leave home, Catholics In Name Only. But a Catholic childhood is a Catholic childhood, and Catholicism is in our cradle Catholic bones and blood and teeth and hair. (But I suppose that is also why cradle Catholics who hold heretical views are so confident in their heresies. You know the drill: "Well, I'm a Catholic, and I think...")
Then there is the generational thing, about which I felt a lot when I was with Marta, especially in front of the shipyard at Gdańsk, the birthplace of Solidarity. When the strikes were going on, Marta was right there. But I was watching them on TV, seeing the photos in Time magazine and observing the Polish priest who suddenly turned up in our parish, out of harm's way, so I remember too.
Generation is about what you remember. Generation gap is about memory as much as it is about "new" ideas and new technology.
Anyway, it is funny to write so much about the joy of spending a long weekend with a cradle Catholic woman of my own generation when it is my convert Catholic husband's birthday. (Happy birthday again, B.A.!) But the point I am making is that even married women (perhaps especially married women) need female friends our own age who know and remember many of the same things we do.
This is why, perhaps, it is hard to make new women friends when you get older or move to another city: the majority of them, native to the city, are so busy with work and their families that when they have time to spend with friends, they choose their oldest friends, the friends who share the same background, values and memories. Childhood friends. High school friends. College friends.
Hard, though, does not mean impossible.